Cloud of Witnesses

Three Ways

Shiprah, Puah and the defiant women of Exodus 1

Fighting evil however we can

Tags: children courage family initiative suffering violence

In 2019 Finland elected its youngest ever prime minister. Sanna Marin was 34. She is the second young woman elected to their country’s most senior position in the past few years (New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern was 37). However, they are old compared to a number of girls who have risen to prominence. Malala Yousafzai, the teenage survivor of a Taliban attack and activist for girls’ education was awarded a Nobel peace prize at the age of 17.  Emma Gonzalez has become a gun control activist in America after the mass shooting in her high school. Famously Greta Thunberg has become globally recognised (both loved and loathed) in her efforts to raise awareness round climate change.

The nursery rhyme said girls are made from - Sugar and Spice and everything nice.  

I don’t think so!

Personally, I’m delighted that capable young women are being recognised as leaders, subverting the typical pattern of political leadership and that brave girls are finding their voices. However, there is absolutely nothing new about young women challenging power structures. Exodus Chapters 1 & 2 contains five young women and girls from 3000+ years ago who did just that!

METHOD 1. Inductive study

What strikes you?

Key Principles?

Application to your circumstances

Action to take?

METHOD 2. Guided study

Let’s take it a bit at a time…

Read Exodus 1.1-14.

How would you summarise the motives and actions of the new Pharaoh?

Read verses 15-16.

Why do you imagine Pharaoh thought these Hebrew midwives would comply to his infanticide instructions? What does it tell us about him?

Read Verses 17-21.

What do these verses reveal about the age and characters of Shiprah and Puah? What factors do you think enabled them to have the courage to defy Pharaoh? Pharaoh changed tactic after this act of defiance.

Read v22.

Why do you imagine he thought THIS tactic would work?

Read Exodus 2.1-4.

Traditionally named as Jochebed, Moses mother tried to hide her child. What is your response to her attempt to do this? What does it show about both her and her daughter Miriam? (Try to put yourself in their shoes – how must this have felt?)

Read verses 2. 5-10.

  • How is the response of this Egyptian princess subversive? What do you think motivated her and in what way was this a personal risk?
  • What do Miriam’s actions reveal about this young girl?


  •  Having examined the actions of these women and girls, where do you see God at work? (particularly given they were not all Jews!)
  • What might this story teach us about how to respond to injustice and oppressive systems?
  • What issues do you see that need courageous people to act in defiance of evil in the name of God? What might you actually do?

METHOD 3: Reflections on the defiant women of Exodus

This is a brutal story. One of unrestrained political power channelled by fear and hatred of ‘others’, into unimaginable violence. Murder the baby boys – a tactic aimed to take away any future change of violent uprising. No young men mean no fighters!
At least that’s what Pharaoh thought. How wrong he was to underestimate women, particularly when the lives of their children are at stake!
So, let’s take a look at them…

Firstly, the midwives. Young enough to not have a family. Devout Hebrews despite 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Fierce protectors of their ethnic sisters when they were at their most vulnerable. Pharaoh should have known; midwives don’t kill – they pour out their energies to bring life not to take it; to protect mothers and babies!

It must have helped that Shiprah and Puah were in it together, that they spurred each other on to defy the abhorrence they’d been instructed to carry out. They were also shrewd – there was no way Pharaoh knew anything about the gynaecological tendencies of women- either Egyptian or Jewish! Clever women! However, they were extraordinarily brave too. Can you imagine each time they delivered a boy? The need for secrecy? And their feelings as they were summoned back to the throne room to defend their actions? I bet they thought this was it – game over.

Yet God honoured their courage in defending his children by saving their lives and giving them the security of their own families. Shiprah and Puah are not mentioned again, but their heroism lives on Millennia later!

Secondly Jochebed (as tradition names Moses’ mother) and big sister Miriam.  My initial question is always, ‘How did she keep the baby hidden for three months?’ Can you imagine the terror she felt each time he whimpered, cried for food, woke in the night? How desperate do you have to be to put your baby on the river and hope for the best? And I’m struck that it’s not her watching the basket – I imagine it was too heart breaking. Instead, Miriam watches over her baby brother. Powerless to do anything else to help.

They are helpless female Hebrew slaves - the least in society. Yet continuing to defy the powers that want to destroy them. Just a small act of subversion, but an act none the less.

Thirdly Pharaoh’s daughter. Not her baby, not even her people – but this young woman stands with the oppressed Hebrew women. She picks a side, at great personal risk, and choses to protect not destroy a child she has no obligation to. This is an act of overt defiance of her father. She knows FULL WELL that this is a Hebrew baby. She knows FULL WELL that all the people have been commanded to toss them in the river like garbage. And she says “NO! I WILL NOT!” Actually, she does the opposite – pays for his wet nurse (well done Miriam you brave, quick thinking, clever girl!) and eventually adopts him into the palace; right under her father’s nose!

All five of these women show compassion, show courage, refuse to participate in mandated evil. They all use the little power they have as an act of defiance. From stealthily protecting the lives of those they delivered, to hiding one child, taking the initiative to speak up, or using resources and status to protect, these are women that save the life of a baby who would become a saviour of his people. The ripple effects of their defiance led to the liberation of ALL the Hebrew slaves 80 years later.

Where is God in this? Barely mentioned but behind the scenes, inspiring that compassion, that courage, that defiance. Using it to bring about his purposes of liberation and hope even during slavery. Not just for the ancient Hebrews but for hundreds of millions over the 3500+ years since. This time through a relative of this baby, another little boy born to a powerless girl whose life was threatened by a tyrant!

There is still much to be done today. Evil is present in many forms and too often it is still children who suffer. There is still a call for the people of God to rise up, partner with non-believers (like Pharaoh’s daughter) if needs be but to use whatever power and influence we have to defy that evil. There is still a need for good to fight back – even when its risky, even if we are ‘just women and girls’. One girl plus God can change everything.

No one should ever underestimate how God can use his daughters!

To Discuss

  • This is quite a well-known story but having looked at in these terms what strikes you?
  • Why do you think these women were prepared to take such risks?
  • Who do you know that has little power, but uses it for the protection or blessing of others? What inspires them? What has it achieved?
  • What power or influence do you have – no matter how small that feels?
  • How are you currently using that to bless others? What stops/encourages you to do that?
  • What do you feel God might be prompting or inspiring in you?

© Ruth Perrin 2021. Last revised on 13 January 2021